Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Mainstreet (Photo Essay)

I've been reading a lot in the news lately about people occupying Wall Street. I'm told that these people are all upset about how "The Man" has been robbing them blind. Similar protests have sprung up in cities across America. In some cases it has gotten violent and people have been arrested. It's such a big thing that it's become a part of the U.S. presidential campaign with the current "occupant" praising them and one of his opponents telling them (paraphrased) "don't go getting upset, go get a job." I say that all of these people are rank amateurs.

These people can't hold a candle to the folks in Okinawa! They've been occupying a section of Highway 58, the main street in and out of the capitol city Naha, every year for years. More importantly, each year they occupy it, it gets a little "bigger" crowd wise and "heavier" as it pertains to the issue they're dealing with. It's such an important event here that each and every year it has Guinness Book of Records implications!

The main difference between occupying "mainstreet" in Okinawa and occupying Wall Street in the U.S. is here in Okinawa, the people are happy! Even the ones without jobs are happy about it. Everyone looks forward to it and instead of going head to head with the authorities over the issue at hand, everyone seems to be in concert to make sure that it's properly dealt with and that a good time is had by all.

Of course I'm talking about the Great Tsunahiki or the Naha Great Tug-O-War! The crowd estimates each year is in the "hundreds of thousands" where in the U.S. we're talking dozens and in rare instances, maybe even a few hundred people. Like I said, in this instance, the American's can't hold a candle to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Okinawan people!

The giant rope weighs in at around 42 tons. It takes weeks to manufacture it and it has to be hauled in to the Kumoji intersection by special trucks the night before. It's divided into a eastern half representing the male and a western half representing the females. After a bunch of karate demonstrations and a bunch of banging drums and gongs, the rope halves are joined with the female end looped over the male end and they're locked in place with a giant wooden peg.

Then they dig up two ancient Okinawan kings and they're brought out from the far ends of the ropes on platforms. These aren't the real kings mind you, that would be a little gross if you were to ask me but rather they use local folks in period costumes. Once they get near the center, they issue challenges to each other, do a little choreographed sword play and then they're taken away where they can enjoy copious amounts of awamori sake while the rest of the crowd plays with the rope.

Lastly, a big golden ball suspended above the intersection is popped open, a bunch of streamers and confetti fill the sky and everyone grabs hold of the rope and pulls with all their might. The task, they have 30 minutes to pull the rope a distance of about 3 meters. If neither side is able to do it in the allotted time, the match is declared a draw and everyone cuts off a piece of the rope for good luck and either goes out to celebrate or goes home. Most folks opt for the former as this event coincides with the Naha "Matsuri" or festival.

As soon as the crowd disperses, the big cranes come in to load the remnants of the rope onto trucks and haul it away for storage until next year. Hey, it's 40 plus tons of straw weaved into a giant rope, you didn't think they made it from scratch each year did you?

Anyway, like I said, the American's occupying Wall Street are rank amateurs when it comes to occupying anything. They could learn a lesson or two from these Okinawan folks. They'd probably have a whole lot more fun if they did it the Okinawan way!

This year's "Great Tsunahiki" will take place on Sunday the 9th of October. Everyone's invited to come on down to occupy mainstreet for a few hours of fun!

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